Lawmakers in New Mexico have listened. A poll conducted by the Albuquerque Journal about two months before last year’s election found voters identified crime, education and homelessness as some of the top problems in need of solutions in our state.
The Legislature responded to these concerns by allocating $64 million – a 63 percent increase from last year’s sum – to local projects, including money to update our first-responders’ communication system, for city police and a new homeless shelter. This pot of money, for Albuquerque only, is in addition to the more than $500 million lawmakers added to the statewide education budget.
Lawmakers listened this session, but it remains to be seen whether they will listen to our priorities in the future.
If non-spending legislation supported by the governor and several members of the Legislature is enacted, we cannot expect such generosity in the future. That’s because the movement in the statehouse to pass radical energy legislation to delay or end natural gas production is growing even though that production provides the single largest source of revenue for our public schools, higher education institutions and health care, accounting for one-third of total funding.
Some state lawmakers say we can replace the budgetary benefits of natural gas by raising taxes, but that’s impossible. Production is responsible for our $2 billion state budget surplus. Raising that type of money would require massive, across-the-board tax increases on every man, woman, family and business in the state.
It’s not just our budget that would be hit by this legislation. Natural gas is important to the state for many reasons.
In New Mexico, our energy resources sustain more than 100,000 jobs in the state and drive an annual economic impact of $12.8 billion. These jobs support high salaries that will raise incomes in our state. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, oil and natural gas extraction jobs are both blue collar and white collar. A petroleum engineer, for example, can make up to $135,000 annually. A rotary drill operator can make about $54,000.
Families and businesses also saved approximately $3.4 billion over the decade between 2006 and 2016 due to lower energy prices driven by natural gas production. These savings are particularly beneficial to families below the poverty line who are struggling with increases in other prices, like groceries.
There also are the environmental benefits of natural gas. With increased natural gas production, for example, methane emissions in New Mexico are falling, despite what you may have heard. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 2016 and 2017, the natural gas industry reduced its methane emissions by almost 728,000 metric tons in the San Juan Basin and 100,000 metric tons in the Permian Basin even though natural gas production rose by 145 million MCF. Natural gas also produces only half of the carbon emissions that coal does.
Emissions declines nationally are as impressive. While U.S. natural gas production has increased 50 percent since 2005, total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are down 12 percent.
The anti-natural gas contingent in the statehouse want to replace natural gas with wind and solar power, which are less reliable and actually require significant taxpayer investment to be viable at all. Rather than picking one energy source over another, we should rely on all energy sources. Diversification can ensure the best outcomes for our air and water at the lowest costs.
Many of the most problematic pieces of energy-related legislation didn’t move during this session of the Legislature. Let’s hope they don’t return next year.